How to Get Help for Overactive Bladder (Even If It’s Embarrassing)

OAB can be treated—and there are plenty of doctors ready to help.

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Whether you’re just noticing symptoms of overactive bladder or you’ve been dealing with it for months, you know that having incontinence can take a huge toll on your work, personal, and emotional life. The urge to pee can come on at the most inconvenient times, and the unpredictability can be stressful, to say the least. “That first morning cup of coffee suddenly becomes problematic. That second glass of wine when you’re out to dinner with friends suddenly doesn’t look so good anymore,” says Lauri Romanzi, MD, a urogynecologist in New York City.

Having to anticipate your next bathroom trip, or worry that you’ll have to interrupt something important to go pee—like a work presentation, or while you’re having sex—can impact your quality of life, causing frustration, anxiety, and distress. “[Patients] begin to restrict how they behave and what they chose for themselves in an attempt to control that terrible feeling of urgency.”

Dr. Romanzi says that many patients who feel OAB symptoms initially try to self diagnose, not realizing that there are multiple forms of incontinence. This can then lead to frustration and anxiety when self-treatment remedies don’t seem to work. “And, no surprise, the anxiety makes everything worse, particularly the overactive bladder,” says Dr. Romanzi.

The best way to diagnose and treat overactive bladder is to see a doctor. There are many treatment options for OAB, from behavior modifications (such as avoiding bladder-irritating foods, starting a bladder diary, and doing Kegel exercises) to medications and, in more severe cases, Botox or surgery. Your doctor will be able to evaluate your symptoms and find the best possible treatment for your lifestyle and health needs.

In terms of seeing a clinician, however, Dr. Romanzi says there’s one important thing to remember: “There are still clinicians who will tell patients that there’s nothing they can do [about OAB],” she says. “I would tell any patient who’s having that type of response from any clinician to be your own advocate. Go online at the local university, look up incontinence, and find someone who can help you.”

The sooner you get evaluated by the right doctor, the sooner you can treat your symptoms. “There’s no reason to sit and wait and to accept that nothing can be done. The key message is don’t be embarrassed. There are plenty of doctors who are ready to help with this type of problem,” says Dr. Romanzi.